The two tracks on offer here won’t clarify anyone’s feelings about Howlin Rain, a band that picks up where singer/guitarist Ethan Miller’s other band, Comets on Fire, left off on their pre-hiatus album, Avatar. Less a “love them or hate them” proposition than a “vibe with them or don’t," the band’s loosey-goosey stoner rock tendencies get free rein over the course of two quarter-hour jams: “Wild Life,” a Wings cover, and the improvised “Black Sangria.” The tracks feature a slightly modified Howlin Rain lineup, with Miller reuniting with Comets' Ben Chasny and Utrillo Kushner. Released in March as part of Three Lobed’s Oscillation III CD subscription series, this EP is mostly a slog, but in rare moments manages to capture the ache the band doggedly pursues to fall this side of boring.
It’s hard to find fault with the band’s decision to cover “Wild Life.” An appropriately neglected nugget of classic rock competence, the song gives the band plenty of room to stretch their weedy limbs and a mellow, unassuming groove they can dry-hump for the duration. Miller’s voice bears a certain family resemblance to McCartney’s—but McCartney’s upper limit of unhinged desire is Miller’s starting point.
“Black Sangria” is a thornier affair, a whirling mass of tumbling drum fills, huge crash cymbals, and puttering Hammond organ that never alights on a rhythm long enough to hold one’s attention. The band seems caught in the no man’s land separating Comets on Fire’s unstable rock amalgam and Howlin Rain’s pan-Californian stoner reverie. If the song has a saving grace, it’s its gritty musicianship. It’s too bad that it’s a musicianship unconnected to any notion of development or any sense of larger musical arc.
Critiquing this sort of release has its own problems—the same sense of discontinuity that can make it feel like a chore to listen to is what gives it its contingent, esoteric aura. With that in mind, anyone who wants to hear this probably already has it.